Missouri Republican legislators file bill for charter schools to receive equal funding with public schools

A bill filed Wednesday by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, and Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, will equalize funding for public charter schools with all Missouri public school districts.

Public school districts receive funding based on taxes collected during the current year. Public charter schools receive funding based on property tax rates from 2004-2005.

The Kansas City Public Schools acknowledged the funding discrepancy in 2019 and agreed to pay local public charter schools about $2 million. According to data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), attendance at Kansas City’s public charter schools is almost equal to the public school system.

“Our education system’s struggles these past two years during the pandemic have shown the limits of a one-size-fits-all approach to K-12 education,” Koenig said in a statement announcing the bill on the first day of pre-filing for the 2022 legislative session. “It’s time to build on the Kansas City compromise that helped inform this legislation, and find solutions to ensure every Missouri student has the resources they need for a first-class education.”

Koenig’s news release referenced DESE data showing the average St. Louis public charter student receives $2,500 less in funding than a student attending the St. Louis Public Schools. In Kansas City, public charter schools receive $1,700 less than the city’s public schools.

The demand to attend Kansas City’s public charter schools escalated in 2019 to a point where the state funding distribution process created substantial shortfalls. The Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA) facilitated discussions leading to Kansas City Public Schools making its contribution to the public charter schools.

The organization was hopeful a funding reform bill, HB137 sponsored by Rep. Richey, would become law. It passed the House by a 86-66 vote in April, but didn’t make it through the Senate before the legislative session ended on May 14. The MCPSA estimated the failure cost public charter schools $30 million in funding this year.

There are about 13,600 students attending Kansas City public charter schools, 51% of public school population in the area, and 12,200 in St. Louis public charter schools, 40% of the public school population, according to Douglas Thaman, executive director of the MCPSA. He said his organization has tried for years to engage with the St. Louis Public School regarding equitable funding discussions.

“We’ve made different overtures, invited them, made requests and it’s something they’ve just refused to do,” Thaman said in an interview with The Center Square. “We would like to have the same opportunity to sit down and work through this with Saint Louis Public Schools and reach an agreement. We want to make sure all voices are at the table, but they continue to indicate that they will not do that.”

Funding problems began in 2007, according to a chronology on the MCPSA website, when a law was passed to streamline how Missouri distributed funds to Kansas City’s public charter schools.

“Rather than requiring Kansas City Public Schools to calculate and distribute local dollars, the legislature opted to allocate charter public schools state funding covering both state and the equivalency of local aid charter public school students are entitled to receive,” according to the MCPSA website. “Missouri recuperated the equivalency of the local dollars by reducing the amount of state money paid to the local school district. However, over time, as parents’ demand for charter schools has increased, in July 2019 the state reached a point of no longer having the state funding to provide the charter public school students in Kansas City 100% of the equivalent local dollars owed, creating a funding gap.”

Thaman is optimistic this year’s legislation will become law.

“We have over 25,000 students who are not receiving equitable funding for their education and we need to get this done,” Thaman said. “Every child’s education is important and we want to ensure that, whether you’re a charter school student or district-managed school student, there are equitable dollars for your education.”

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